Got lost while Hiking in the Gorges of Mauritius
July 28, 2019
The experience of finding your way back…
My buddy and I got lost on the Trochetia trail while hiking in the beautiful Gorges National park of Mauritius. What was supposed to take us only 30mins to reach the Gorges viewpoint, a short walk literally from the right of the Parakeet trail to the left towards the Gorges viewpoint, ended up in a several hours tough bush walk, with crouching through a wild boar tunnel, climbing big rocks, squeezing through branches, sometimes close like bushwhacking while figuring our way back. Our plan was to hike till the peak of Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire and from there continue on till the parking area in the Gorges. From there we would then walk back up the Parakeet trail and reach the car.
This experience, was an intense one, with many lessons to take home, and ways of looking at how one-selves copes in team under stress and fear. Everything changes when you don’t have a laid out track ahead of you, and you find yourself in unknown risky terrain with cliffs.
On this day, I had for the first time installed the Wikiloc app on my phone to record our hike, so this whole hike, including the part where we got lost is recorded. Before you come to conclusions wondering how could we still loose our path even though we had a GPS on the phone, we only figured out a while later when we started to get stuck that our predicament has been sealed… We also got lost, because at first we thought, we were still on track… see how you can fool yourself with over confidence. We also thought that it’s logically going to be easy to connect with where we were aiming for, because we kind of logically knew, if we were on the correct path, it should have been easy…
How it all began…
The car was parked at the top in Plaine Champagne, where there are 2 huge antennas, this is also the location where the Parakeet trail is found, which would at the end of the journey be our culmination point. My buddy picked this location because those antennas can also be spotted from far, he felt it would feel sort of reassuring from time to time to be able to see where the end goal is located.
From that point, we took the road heading towards the Gorges Viewpoint until we reached a medium sized rock to our right, coated with a green colour that indicated that this is where the Trochetia trail begins. The word Trochetia was barely visible on the rock, we could discern a T shape. I would say in that moment we were probably both still day dreaming and warming up, not paying too much attention to our surroundings. Some of my thought structures were related into planning and solving some challenges I was facing in the game I recently reviewed called Prospectors. I wasn’t practicing any mindfulness! In such beautiful scenery, mindfulness is a must! So we walked on until we reached an entrance that had a stripped white and red ribbon hanging above it, we completely missed out the correct path which was on our left just a few metres before that entrance with the stripped red and white ribbon.
When I saw that ribbon I thought, maybe it means we shouldn’t go down there but I didn’t bother much to consider that intuition… Haven’t you quite often noticed that it’s quite rare we listen to our intuition?…
Quite quickly the track started to head downwards, which we found a bit odd, since we were aiming for the Gorges viewpoint which located way higher up and logically also we were expecting this track to take us more to the left, towards that targeted position. As we kept going downwards into the valley (…of the shadows of…) , and barely seeing much due to being obstructed by dense vegetation, we kept fooling ourselves with the hope and impression that we were most likely still approaching the viewpoint.
After a while, when I looked backwards, it was quite difficult actually to see any form of a path if we were to walk back up. I thought that this is a good recipe for getting lost, so a part of me hoped, that we will not have to walk back up, because we will most likely end up at our destination and know from there on how to continue. Like, I was confident that getting lost is the most unlikely thing that will happen to us. I wasn’t looking on my phone yet either which was tracking us, which will soon be a sort of savior later on. Keep in mind I was also using this app for the first time, and out of a habit, never used that before to hike, and neither haven’t been lost yet on a hike, so there is this sort of self trust that we will just reach our end goal, one way or the other. How interesting it gets, when all this shatters…
At some point we reached a sort of flat terrain that has a small circular shaped grass field surrounded by rocks. It looks like potentially a place that accumulates water from various small streams and then relays it further. This is the part where we start to delve into our loss…
There was a lot of dense vegetation ahead, plus rocks, making us abort the idea to keep going downhill. On another note I wonder if we could hike that part again someday to walk into the Gorges and then merge back onto a track like Colophane trail. So, a sort of logical thought striked us both that the viewpoint lies more to the left, so let’s try to head towards there was our instinctive next step. While we do that, it starts to get steep, big rock formations occur, cliffs appear, vegetation gets dense, and there is no more sight of a track. We then reconsider to try to get back to the main track we came back on to head back onto some bearings that we are familiar with. While in that moment we still face varied cleared spots due to lesser dense vegetation, we tend to see all sorts of tracks everywhere. We keep shouting at each other that “I have found it!” while we keep deviating and entering more and more into denser vegetation. What feels likes the right track is soon to be the wrong one again and again. Various spots where I had memorized items such as a fallen tree, or a particular shaped rock for orientation purposes also fails, because when we try to find our way back, we came across several huge fallen tree trunks and big rocks that all look alike. A sort of despair starts to settle in…
Now we have come to
the realization we are lost.
I take out my phone to check on the WikiLoc app where we are located, and we have deviated far away from the main track. Our attempts to use the app and get back closer to the path that has been tracked by the app also fails, somehow we keep distancing further and further away… Under the pressure of anxiety and panic, it gets more difficult to start figuring out things. There comes this desired rushed feeling of, if I could just teleport myself out of here right back onto the laid out beaten track that all humans use… Reality strikes you in your face, here we are now, this is the NOW – mindfulness taken to the extreme.
Anxiety and Panic strikes first
When I see the
cliffs… when I know cliffs await… Steep ones we could fall off
from… when I know there is danger ahead… I see all the risks and
dangers in form of horror images ruminating through my mind… I
conclude that I might die here today. Defeated, I accept that death
is an option. If that’s the only thing left, that is to die, well
since I’m still alive, let’s make the best of it and get out of
Calling for help is not an option. Nobody knows anyway where we are, and standing still, paralyzed on one stop until help gets out of there, is also not an option I want to consider. These were a series of storms of thoughts that went through me in my state of anxiety and panic. I also slightly stuttered when discussing with my buddy how we are going to proceed. In my state of fear, I was also becoming irrational and thought of just trying to go back downhill… though we had already climbed a big chunk. Am glad my friend didn’t listen to me and suggested that we keep going as we will logically have to get closer to the track we set out on in the beginning. After a while my friend said to me that thankfully none of us were the types to have such extreme panics that we went nuts, started screaming for help and just freeze on the spot… We honestly made a good team!
As we were going back up, I started to see formations of small cliffs and big rocks. Exactly what I was scared of! Not only then but since a long time in my mind, I have created this picture of fear of cliffs… What a challenge to be addressing them on that day. What you fear, you will get… What you fear, you will attract? Could that be true?…
I could also see at one point that heading to my left, would lead me to bigger rocks, where it would be even more difficult to progress. I also knew, that since when you look from the Gorges Viewpoint towards our direction that there are some huge cliffs. Knowing this, added some spice to my anxieties.
It was also quite dark, vegetation was dense, and the first rock we climbed was quite technical. I was worried that it was going to get more complicated later on. Correspondingly there were situations where the level of technical difficulty was so high that it took me minutes to figure out on which branches to hold and on which places to place my feet and where to pull myself up with the hope that none of these plants will be uprooted (not to save the plants! To save myself from falling!). There was also one daring move I did to get onto a higher position where I was quite vertical and pulled myself up horizontally with quite a drop behind me… If I fell, that would have been it… We then started to follow a dried up stream, which was quite slippery, and whenever we climbed, some rocks would get loose. So, this option we choose to gave up one and we tried to go up on the side of the stream because various rocks were falling quite close in my direction when my buddy who was in front of me climbed. Like a video game, swerving obstacle.
From this point on,
we started consulting the GPS map and we had an idea where we would
like to head to. From the map I quickly discerned that lines that are
close means very steep terrain, and those that are wide apart, means
it’s more flat. So, we also took that into consideration in
designing our new route, which would get most of the time changed due
The environment that we found ourselves in, and my thoughts gave me a heightened moment of intense anxiety and panics. I was still behaving calmly from my body composure. Despite I was in fear and processing the whole predicament. I then concluded that there is a possibility that I might die, it could occur, falling off a cliff could lead to death. I came to peace with myself that death is part of life, and if it’s going to be today, then so be it. From that point on I started to calm down. Adrenalin set in, and we kept on going.
We zigzagged through the terrain. We constantly had the impression we saw tracks that we could walk through and would end up stuck a few metres on. Sometimes we despaired, made a groan of despondency, stopped, took a deep breath and pushed aside big branches and squeezed ourselves through them. Quite often we had to bend, crouch, hold on to branches and climb to other parts. The steep terrain parts where so full of plants that this proved to be our safety net. We kept looking on the the GPS where we are heading and progress sometimes seemed to look like we weren’t progressing at all.
On the main track, when we began the journey, there were also some orange sprayed orientation marks, like on rocks. While we were lost, we sometimes thought we saw an orange spot, to be disappointed that it was only an orange leaf. We were looking for such sign of hopes… Sometimes you see things that you really want to see until you realise it is just an illusion…
After we were unable to keep following a dry slippery water stream, I saw to our left a sort of tunnel with wild board tracks a midst dense branches. I suggested to my buddy that we follow those tracks. These animals should know better and could lead us out of this dense vegetation closer back to our main track. It was quite muddy and we had to crouch a lot. We didn’t encounter any wild boar. Once we were out of the tunnel, we saw that there was some clearing to go downhill, and it stayed dense uphill. We kept going uphill.
How regular meditation gave me back my self confidence
I practice meditation on a regular basis since several years. Part of my meditation practice involves breathing techniques. During the middle of our journey, we just stopped for a few minutes where there was a clearing and where we were able to contemplate a picturesque view of the Gorges valley including a view on the Piton de la petite Riviere Noire. During that pause, I took some deep breaths, and I started to feel calm, a sort of reassurance overtook me, and from that point on, I just felt: We are going to make it!
I then started to joke with Hugo that this challenge isn’t tough enough! …and then, let’s just RELAX and keep on going. We will make it. So we continued.
When things get tough, you can or you will turn to your faith for help!
On various tough hikes I have done, depending on the challenge and the situation, I would sometimes just talk out loud to God. To ask him for guidance, help and to get us back safely. In those moments, when I practiced that, it felt like a genuine, deep, honest request to God, a request where I really mean, what I am asking for. When things are going well, you can regularly pray out of habit, make your wishes and gratitude known and move on with your day without having had a deep connection and meaning with that prayer… Not that it has to be always like that of course!
Out of our comfort zone
Getting lost in a
surrounding off track, with dense vegetation, huge rocks, cliffs,
steep landscape, gets you definitely out of your comfort zone. We
didn’t intentionally seek for such a thrill in that particular
format, obviously the body&mind likes to keep in the comfort
zone… in contrast to our initial itinerary that was going to be as
taxing physically if we did complete our journey. The main difference
being, or one of many that could be said is that we wouldn’t have
had the mental challenge plus the physical duress of crouching and
technical challenges like we did when we were lost.
The moment there is no more laid out track for you to follow also sets you into a new form of stress where you have to figure out how to cope and make it back to where you will feel comfortable again. That sense of being back on a familiar track or just a laid out track has that serene sense of security with it. Being torn off the beaten track, brings a whole experience of growth with it.
And then we found our way back to the main track
Hurray! What a feeling of delight it was when we found ourselves back onto the main track again. To be on a cleared track, able to progress in a standing position again. During our progression, we were adrenaline pumped, we didn’t feel fatigue, pain, hunger except that I did thirst a lot and was constantly dehydrating. The moment we reached the exit of that track and were back on more flat terrain, we suddenly felt a huge hunger. We sat down and had our meals, and shortly after we just lied flat on the ground and slept for an hour out of fatigue.
We then did the Trochetia trail properly and met some Koreans
After our meal and nap on the grass, we decided to walk along the road till the Gorges Viewpoint from where we then took the Trochetia trail to walk back, which was a very simple quick walk. On our way to the Gorges Viewpoint we came across some Koreans who had just parked on the side of the road to take some photos. We had some small talk with them, and the Korean guy retorted that if we are able to hike together for that many hours, me and my buddy can be friends for life. An interesting word of wisdom. After that he took a picture of us, a memory he wanted to keep of that moment. I’ve had more friendly small talks with people of all sorts of walks of life when being on a hike, where actually quite often you will not encounter many people; compared to the life in a city where you are surrounded by many people and do not talk to each other and if you do, they might quite often feel disturbed by that fact.
We then drove back home with a sense of satisfaction. It did feel incredible!
Once home, I wasn’t able to fall asleep on that night, as soon as sleep came, I would feel and see visions of my feet slipping, I would see branches slamming in my face and constantly like a shock get awake again. I then listened to music till 2am and then it gradually got more peaceful.
It has also been a great experience to share and talk about with friends over the course of this week.
It’s been soon a
week now that I have been writing this article and in hindsight I
already miss the valleys of the Gorges and I feel like going back
into dense vegetation… There is something mystical about it…
If you like stories about hikes, you could also read the big book of Lord of the Rings!
I wish you a great day ahead, and please do share with me your stories and experiences of your own hikes in the comments section below.
Useful links for planning your off trail hikes:
53 Bushwhacking Tips for Off-Trail Navigation
Got lost while Hiking in the Gorges of Mauritius by Dietmar Reigber